Larry Nance

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Paul George: If Thunder reach conference finals or beat Warriors, ‘I’d be dumb to want to leave’

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Paul George supposedly told his former Pacers teammates for years he wanted to join the Lakers. George publicly flirted with the Lakers. The Lakers reportedly received word not to trade for George, because he might just sign in Los Angeles anyway in 2018 free agency. George told the Pacers he’d leave Indiana, reportedly preferably for the Lakers. Even after the Thunder traded for him, George was still reportedly telling friends he planned to sign with the Lakers.

Is George, a Southern California native, truly hell-bent on the Lakers?

Now, we can hear it straight from him.

George, via Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated:

“I grew up a Lakers and a Clippers fan,” George says. “I idolized Kobe. There will always be a tie here, a connection here. People saying I want to come here, who doesn’t want to play for their hometown? That’s a dream come true, if you’re a kid growing up on the outskirts of L.A., to be the man in your city. But it’s definitely been overstated. For me, it’s all about winning. I want to be in a good system, a good team. I want a shot to win it. I’m not a stats guy. I’m playing this game to win and build a legacy of winning. I’ve yet to do that. I’m searching for it. If we get a killer season in Oklahoma, we make the conference finals or upset the Warriors or do something crazy, I’d be dumb to want to leave that.”

“It’s too early for L.A.,” he says. “It would have to be a situation where the ball gets rolling and guys are hopping on. This guy commits, that guy commits. ‘Oh s—, now there’s a team forming.’ It has to be like that.”

“I’m in OKC, so hopefully me and Russ do a good enough job and make it to the conference finals and love the situation, why not recruit someone to come build it with us? I’m open in this whole process.”

I’m a bit surprised George laid down such direct benchmarks – reaching the conference finals or upsetting the Warriors – but they, especially the former, are achievable.

Russell Westbrook is the best teammate George, who reached consecutive conference finals in Indiana, has ever played with. The Thunder have built a quality supporting cast with Steven Adams, a re-signed Andre Roberson and newly acquired Patrick Patterson. Even Raymond Felton plugs a major hole at backup point guard.

The Thunder – who won several coin-flip games – probably weren’t as good as their 47-35 record last year, so assessing improvement can be difficult. But they should be better this year.

George is a great fit. Westbrook’s singular offensive ability allows Oklahoma City to fill the floor with defense-first players, and George is another wing stopper with Roberson. For a star, George is also extremely comfortable playing off the ball – a must around Westbrook. Yet, George can also take the lead, easing the burden on Westbrook at times.

Staying with the Thunder could look very appealing next year.

But so could joining the Lakers, especially if George gives them a hometown advantage. Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle and Larry Nance Jr. aren’t yet ready to win, but George is spending a season of their growing pains in Oklahoma City. By next summer, the Lakers’ young core will be closer to ascending. The Lakers, who already dumped Timofey Mozgov, are also working toward clearing enough cap space to lure multiple stars at once, as George alluded to.

He spoke in terms of other players joining Los Angeles first, though his commitment would go a long way in recruiting. The Lakers probably can’t bank on that at this point.

Neither can the Thunder.

But the battle lines are being drawn – surprisingly bluntly, by George himself.

Report: Lakers trying to acquire another first-round pick

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The Lakers, who have the Nos. 2 and 28 picks in the upcoming draft, were reportedly discussing trading the second pick.

What do they want?

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

The Los Angeles Lakers are trying to acquire another first-round pick for Thursday’s NBA draft, league sources told ESPN.

The Lakers have engaged at least two teams in the lottery, sources said, as they search for players to improve their outside shooting and perimeter defense.

While there have been inquires on the No. 2 pick, sources said it remains unlikely the Lakers would trade out of that position.

Trading down from No. 2 with the Kings, who have the Nos. 5 and 10 picks, would be a relatively simple way to land an extra first-rounder. But, as Shelburne says, the Lakers don’t seem particularly keen on parting with the second pick.

The Lakers have a roster full of players new team president Magic Johnson didn’t acquire, a fact he made glaringly clear when he declared everyone but Brandon Ingram tradable. D'Angelo Russell or Julius Randle – and maybe even Jordan Clarkson or Larry Nance Jr. – could fetch a first-rounder and allow Johnson to choose a player he wants rather than inherits.

We’re past the days of big-market teams like the Lakers just buying first-round picks. The salary scale and team control makes first-rounders just too valuable. But the Lakers have ammo to acquire another first-rounder.

They must be mindful of Paul George – what assets, if any, they want to trade for him. If they don’t trade, they need a plan to open max cap space for him next summer.

As long as they keep that in mind, there are plenty of logical ways for the Lakers to add a first-rounder while keeping the second pick. It’ll just cost them one of the talented young players they already have.

D’Angelo Russell’s dedicates lucky-bounce game winning three to grandmother who died (VIDEO)

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LOS ANGELES — D'Angelo Russell almost didn’t play on Sunday night for the Lakers. His grandmother had passed away in Louisville, and when Russell found out Sunday morning he said he looked into booking a flight and going to be with family, but he couldn’t make the flight today so decided to play Sunday and fly out Monday.

The Lakers are happy he was there.

Russell drained a game-winning three that fell through the rim on a bounce just as time expired, giving the Lakers the win, 110-109. After the shot fell Russell ran over to hug his family. Russell said he dedicated the shot to his grandma.

“I knew (playing was) what my grandma would have wanted,” Russell said. “My dad, brothers, and everyone wanted me to play. I wanted to get away from basketball. I didn’t want to express myself through basketball but it was the only option I had and I tried to take advantage of it.”

“I get goosebumps even talking about the way the game ended,” coach Luke Walton said. “How awesome for him on such a tough day where obviously basketball is nothing in the big picture of what he’s dealing with.”

There’s a lot to unpack in this play.

Ricky Rubio has been fantastic since the All-Star break, but he had a rough night against the Lakers (after setting his career high in points the last time they played), and that included getting stuffed by Larry Nance Jr. on an off-balance layup. Andrew Wiggins (41 points) and Karl-Anthony Towns (40 points) had the hot hands, they needed to get the rock here.

Metta World Peace got a clean look at a potential game-winner from the corner first but missed it. The best part of this, watch his leg shake as he hesitates and lines up the shot. Jordan Clarkson said the team gave MWP a hard time about that in the locker room after the game.

Julius Randle chased down the odd-bounce rebounds off MWP’s miss. If you wanted to see Tom Thibodeau’s blood pressure rise postgame, all you had to do was him about the handful of offensive rebounds the Timberwolves gave up late. He said Minnesota got what it deserved in this game the way they rebounded and came out flat.

• Three Timberwolves defenders were crowded around Randle — shooting 27.9 percent from three this season — and left open Russell, shooting 35.4 percent from deep this season.

• That’s as lucky a bounce as you are going to see. Maybe grandma gave that one a little tip.

Watch Dirk Nowitzki surpass 30,000 points, join Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant

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Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki is a future Hall of Famer. He’s also now a member of an exclusive club that includes Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Wilt Chamberlain, Karl Malone, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

On Tuesday night, playing against the Los Angeles Lakers, Nowitzki surpassed 30,000 points scored in the NBA.

The big shot came early in the second quarter in Dallas, with Nowtizki on the right wing on a post up. Dirk went with his signature leg kick step back fadeaway over Larry Nance Jr., which set the American Airlines Center on fire.

The view from inside the AAC was pretty neat:

It was a great moment with Nowitzki, and as the ESPN cameras moved around the crowd it settled on Nowitzki’s famed coach and friend, Holger Geschwindner. Geschwindner could be seen tearing up as Dallas celebrated Nowitzki’s accomplishment:

Former and current NBAers — including LeBron Jamesshowed their appreciation for Nowitzki on Twitter after the basket hit the nylon.

Congratulations to Dirk and Mavericks fans.

Breaking down NBA trade deadline winners, losers: Good week for Pelicans, Raptors

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Drama, there was plenty of that. Rumors? Check. Hype? An overdose of it.

But actual trades, there were not a lot of those at the NBA trade deadline, like most years. And also like most years, there were few real game changers — while a big name or two changed teams, did anyone move into contention? Not sold that happened.

Still, there were winners and losers. And it’s time to break them all down.

Here are my top three winners and losers.

WINNERS:

New Orleans Pelicans. A small market team that fell into one franchise cornerstone star fell into another one Sunday because the Sacramento Kings wanted to move DeMarcus Cousins fast, before the owner changed his mind again, and said team seems to have a difficult-to-explain fascination with Buddy Hield. Now with Cousins and Anthony Davis, the Pelicans have potentially the best frontcourt in the NBA. (I say potentially because we need to see them actually play for a while before making declarations.)

There’s still work to do in New Orleans — re-sign Jrue Holiday this summer, get more shooting, find a wing defender —  but this team is in position to make a playoff push this season, then be much more of a threat next season. The hardest part of assembling a great team is getting the superstars because there is a limited supply. The Pelicans have two of them. Now we see what they do with it, but this is great news for a small market team that can struggle to get attention in football country. People will be watching now.

Toronto Raptors. Heading into the run-up to the trade deadline, their weak spot was the four, plus they needed to get more defense.

Then over the course of a week, the Raptors added Serge Ibaka and on deadline day P.J. Tucker in a fantastic trade. While Boston can sit back with those two Brooklyn picks and say the future is a few years from now, the Raptors can’t — their window is now. Ibaka isn’t the All-Star, borderline Defensive Player of the Year anymore, he doesn’t move like that guy now, but he’s still a huge upgrade over what they had. Tucker is the kind of physical defender Toronto needs in the postseason. I’m not sold the Raptors stand a chance against a healthy Cavaliers team, but their moves may have moved them back up to being the second best team in the East — now they need to make up the two games on the Wizards and move back up to the three seed in the East. They don’t want to be the four seed and get Cleveland in the second round.

Dallas Mavericks. They have been looking for their next Tyson Chandler for a while. They thought they had that and more a couple of years ago before DeAndre Jordan had a change of heart. Now they got their guyNerlens Noel. He could be an anchor for a decade, and the Mavs gave up only Justin Anderson (a potentially nice “3&D” player), Andrew Bogut (who the Sixers will waive), and what was billed as a first-round pick but is top 18 protected this year so it will revert to two second rounders.

There are reasons for concern for Dallas — Noel has a worrying injury history, a limited offensive game (but he stays in his lane), and the fact he’s likely going to get  a contract in the $100 million range this summer — but it was still a smart roll of the dice for Cuban’s team. Noel could be the center of the future, paired with Harrison Barnes for years as they Mavs rebuild in a post-Dirk era.

Honorable mention: Houston Rockets, Anthony Davis, Nerlens Noel.

LOSERS:

DeMarcus Cousins. There are 30 million reasons Cousins ends up on this side of the list. There may well be positives for him — he got out of dysfunctional Sacramento, he gets to play with a star in Anthony Davis, he can reset the narrative on his career — but he still lost out on $30 million because he will not get the designated player contract. It’s through no fault of his own, and his agent tried to prevent the move, but in the end Cousins lost out on a lot of cash when he got traded.

Sacramento Kings. Like everything with Sacramento, the trade of Cousins just didn’t feel thought out. In the least. It’s not moving on from Cousins that I’m questioning — that is a defendable action both in terms of on-court results and upcoming costs — but the execution of it. Forget that going back as far as couple years ago before the 2015 draft there were much better offers available — the Lakers offered both their first round picks, which became D'Angelo Russell and Larry Nance Jr., plus other parts — even now there were other teams that wanted in on the bidding and were never called. They were settled on Buddy Heild, who they like more than anyone else in the league, and wanted to move quickly before owner Vivek Ranadive changed his mind again. Maybe the Pelicans’ offer was the best one on the table right now, but better run franchises find ways to get more out of big deals because they don’t feel rushed.

Philadelphia 76ers. GM Bryan Colangelo misread the market on big men, and it hurt the Sixers come the trade deadline. He had the chance to move Jahlil Okafor — the guy the Sixers preferred to move at the deadline — for better offers last summer. Same with Noel. But Colangelo waited too long to make his move, waiting for a better offer (and to see if Noel and Joel Embiid could play together), to the point that he had to trade Noel and get back just a couple of second round picks and a potential 3&D wing who couldn’t get into Rick Carlisle’s rotation in Dallas.

Bottom line, Philly traded their better availble big man for too little, and still have the guy they didn’t want on their roster. That’s not a good day.

Honorable mention: New York Knicks, Los Angeles Clippers (two teams that stood pat because they couldn’t make the move they needed — which is better than bad move, but not good).